Infectious Diseases

Symptoms and Treatment of Tapeworm Infection in Humans

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Definitive symptoms of tapeworm infections are sometimes nonexistent or subtle. In other cases, they can cause seizures and neurological issues. People who are infected by a tapeworm cannot feel it inside of them. Treatments for tapeworm infections include various medications, or none at all if the parasite exits the body and does not cause any damage.

This overview of tapeworm infections will examine known symptoms as well as possible treatments for this condition specifically in humans.

How Does Tapeworm Infection Occur?

A person who consumes food or water which is contaminated with tapeworm larvae or eggs may become infected if an adult tapeworm develops. Adult tapeworms are comprised of a head, neck and segments called proglottids. The head of the tapeworm affixes itself to the wall of the intestines, and produces more eggs. Believe it or not, an adult tapeworm can live for as long as two decades inside of a person, and can grow to be 15 or 20 feet long.

The most common ways of ingesting tapeworm eggs are by drinking water or eating food which has been contaminated with fecal matter, either by an animal or person who is already infected. If the feces of an infected animal to mixes into soil which comes into contact with food or water for human consumption, those resources become contaminated.

Another way humans become infected is by eating raw or undercooked meat from an animal with tapeworm infection. There are six strains of this undesirable parasitic flatworm: beef, pork, fish, rodent, dog and dwarf.

Types of Tapeworm Infections and Symptoms

After tapeworm eggs are ingested, they develop into mobile larvae. If they leave the intestines, they become invasive and can cause cysts to form in lungs, liver and other tissues. Thus, infections can be either intestinal or invasive. Intestinal tapeworm infections are typically mild. But invasive infections can cause unpleasant complications.

* Symptoms of Intestinal Infection - In many cases, people suffering from intestinal tapeworm infections don't display any visible signs. In other instances, symptoms may include weakness, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, loss of weight and appetite, abdominal discomfort, and the inability to absorb food nutrients.

* Symptoms of Invasive Infection - Larvae that have migrated within the body can caused cysts, which can ultimately lead to tissue and organ damage. Complications from this condition can result in fever, seizures, allergic reactions, neurological problems, and noticeable lumps or cysts.

* Symptoms of Infection in Children - Like adults, symptoms may not be apparent in kids. In more pronounced cases, symptoms might include difficulty sleeping, headaches, or itchy buttocks. At times, tapeworm infections have been incorrectly diagnosed as pinworm infections.

The presence of a tapeworm is detected through the presence of eggs in a person's stool collected and tested over a period of several days.

Treatments for Tapeworm Infections

Sometimes tapeworm infections in humans do not require any treatment if the tapeworm leaves the body on its own.

* Intestinal - If a diagnosis of intestinal tapeworm infection is made, various medications can be prescribed, based on the type of tapeworm and where the infection is located. Among them are praziquantel (Biltricide), Albendazole (Albenza), and nitazoxanide (Alinia), which is an antimicrobial drug.

People undergoing tapeworm treatments are cautioned that medications only attack the adult tapeworm, and that reinfection from lingering eggs can occur. They are warned to always wash their hands before eating, and especially after using the bathroom..

Stool samples are periodically checked after treatment to ensure a clean bill of health, and the chances of complete recovery are high for those who undergo proper medical procedures.

* Invasive - Invasive tapeworm treatments are administered based on the location and complications from the infection. If cysts are causing inflammation or swelling, anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed. Anthelmintic drugs such as Albendazole may be used to shrink certain tapeworm cysts.

If too much fluid builds up on the brain due to invasive infection, shunts may be placed to allow fluid to drain from the head. If a patient is suffering from seizures, anti-epileptic therapy and medications might be prescribed.

Sometimes cysts are surgically removed, depending on location and symptoms. Cysts within the lungs, liver and eyes are usually removed during surgery because they can severely hamper the function of these all-important organs.

Preventive Measures

Pets - If you have pets, be sure to keep them flea-free. If a tapeworm-infected pet has fleas, and one is inadvertently consumed in food or by any other way, it's possible for a human to become infected. Also, if your pet ingests a rodent, have it checked by a vet for tapeworms.

Hygiene - Always wash your hands after handling animals, especially if cleaning up feces. Be diligent in hand-washing, especially after using the bathroom or if traveling out of the country. Use antibacterial soaps to wash hands and any utensils, tables or counter surfaces that have come into contact with raw pork, beef or fish.

Foods - Don't consume pork, beef or fish that appears to be undercooked or refrigerated improperly. Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and be sure to dispose of garbage promptly. Only buy U.S. inspected meats.

Water - If dealing with suspicious tap water, boil it for at least one minute prior to drinking. It's also wise to avoid fountain drinks that may be mixed with tap water.

Part of effective tapeworm prevention lies in being aware of how infections are contracted and how symptoms manifest themselves. Staying diligent and using good hygiene can make a big difference, and can keep tapeworm infections away from you and your family.


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